Aristocratic Economies

Joanna Drell

in The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe

Published in print August 2013 | ISBN: 9780199582174
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191749919 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Aristocratic Economies

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Gender and Sexuality


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This essay examines the economic activities and "work" of aristocratic women, c.1000–c.1400. Despite the limitations posed by law, custom, and social expectation, women played a central role in preserving and transferring family wealth through marriage, gifts, and inheritance. They were equally crucial in matters of household and estate management. Both older and recent scholarship explores the complexity of the woman's experience within the European family. Her role was neither rigidly static nor in perpetual flux. The diversity of a woman's economic responsibilities and her influence in the family reveal the inherent flexibility of the medieval family, once considered staunchly patriarchal. While some have argued that the patrilineal descent group was narrowing in this period, medieval families devised strategies to preserve the integrity of their holdings and to provide for a range of kin, regardless of gender.

Keywords: family; aristocracy; work; economy; inheritance; marriage; household; patrilineage; dowry; estate management

Article.  8042 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Gender and Sexuality

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